Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia, is a beautiful city with plenty of sights to see and things to do.
However, the surrounding areas outside of Skopje and in greater Macedonia are equally as fascinating and offer various opportunities for day trips and excursions.
In this article, we will explore the top recommended day trips and excursions from Skopje, ranging from cultural and historical sites to natural wonders.
Ohrid is a small city located on the shores of Lake Ohrid in southwestern North Macedonia.
It is one of the oldest human settlements in Europe and has a rich history that dates back over 2,000 years.
Ohrid is known for its great Instagram photo opportunities, beautiful architecture, stunning natural beauty, and cultural significance and is often referred to as the “Jerusalem of the Balkans”.
One of the top attractions in Ohrid is the Ohrid Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This ancient part of the city is filled with cobbled streets, traditional Macedonian houses, and medieval churches.
Visitors can explore the Church of Saint Sophia, which dates back to the 11th century and is known for its stunning frescoes, or the Church of Saint John at Kaneo, which offers incredible views of the lake and surrounding mountains.
Another must-see attraction in Ohrid is the Saint Naum Monastery, located on the southern shore of Lake Ohrid.
The monastery was built in the 10th century and is dedicated to Saint Naum, a 9th-century monk who played an important role in spreading Christianity throughout the region.
The monastery features stunning frescoes and a beautiful garden, and visitors can take a boat tour of the nearby springs.
Lake Ohrid is another top attraction in the area. Visitors can take a boat tour of the lake to explore its waters and stunning scenery.
The lake is home to many endemic fish species, making it a popular destination for anglers.
Visitors can also visit the local bazaar, filled with traditional handicrafts and delicious local cuisine, or take a hike in the nearby Galicica National Park.
Getting to Ohrid from Skopje
The best way to get from Skopje to Ohrid is by bus, which takes approximately three hours. Taxis and private transfer services are also available, but these are more expensive.
The journey from Skopje to Ohrid is incredibly scenic, and visitors can enjoy stunning countryside views along the way.
Bitola is a historic city located in the southwestern part of North Macedonia, close to the border with Greece.
The city was founded by the ancient Macedonians in the 4th century BC and has a rich and diverse history, having been ruled by the Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans, and Yugoslavs at different points in time.
Today, Bitola is known for its stunning architecture, ancient ruins, and vibrant cultural scene.
One of the top attractions in Bitola is the ancient city of Heraclea Lyncestis, which was founded by Philip II of Macedon in the 4th century BC.
The city was an important trading center during the Roman period and was later destroyed by an earthquake in the 6th century AD. Visitors can explore the well-preserved ruins of the city, including the amphitheater, basilica, and palace.
Another must-see attraction in Bitola is the Bitola Old Bazaar, which dates back to the Ottoman period.
The bazaar is filled with traditional Turkish-style shops, cafes, and restaurants, and is a great place to try local cuisine and shop for souvenirs.
Visitors can also climb the Clock Tower, which offers stunning views of the city and surrounding countryside.
For those interested in history and culture, Bitola has a number of local museums that are well worth a visit.
The best way to experience Bitola is to simply wander its streets and take in the sights and sounds of this historic city.
Visitors can stroll through the city’s many parks and gardens, visit local cafes and restaurants and soak up the vibrant atmosphere of this unique destination.
Getting to Bitola from Skopje
Bitola is located approximately 180 kilometers from Skopje and can be reached by bus, taxi, or private transfer. The journey takes approximately three hours by bus and two hours by car, depending on traffic.
Prizren is a historic city located in Kosovo, just south of the border with North Macedonia.
The city has a rich and diverse history, having been ruled by the Byzantines, Ottomans, and Yugoslavs at different points in time. Today, Prizren is known for its stunning architecture, ancient landmarks, and bustling cultural scene.
One of the top attractions in Prizren is the Prizren Fortress, which is located on a hill overlooking the city.
The fortress dates back to the 11th century and offers stunning views of the surrounding countryside. Visitors can explore the fortress and learn about its history and significance.
Another must-see attraction in Prizren is the Sinan Pasha Mosque, which is one of the most beautiful Ottoman-era mosques in the Balkans.
Visitors can admire the mosque’s intricate architecture and learn about its history and significance.
The Stone Bridge is another popular attraction in Prizren, which is an iconic symbol of the city. The bridge dates back to the Ottoman period and is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Prizren.
For those interested in local culture, Prizren has a number of local markets that are well worth a visit. Visitors can sample local cuisine, shop for souvenirs, and experience the vibrant atmosphere of this unique destination.
Prizren is generally considered a safe destination for travelers, but it is always a good idea to take normal precautions and be aware of your surroundings.
Getting to Prizren from Skopje
Prizren is located approximately 150 kilometers from Skopje and can be reached by bus or taxi. The journey takes approximately two hours by bus and one hour and 30 minutes by car, depending on traffic.
Matka Canyon is a stunning natural attraction located just outside of Skopje, offering visitors a peaceful escape from the city’s hustle and bustle.
The canyon, which was formed by the Treska River, is one of the most popular outdoor destinations in North Macedonia, and it’s not hard to see why.
The canyon has a long and fascinating history, having been inhabited since prehistoric times. Over the centuries, it has been used for a variety of purposes, including as a source of water and electricity for the surrounding areas.
Today, Matka Canyon is a protected natural area that is managed by the Matka Canyon National Park.
One of the main attractions in Matka Canyon is Vrelo Cave, which is one of the deepest underwater caves in the world.
Visitors can take a boat tour of the cave and admire the stunning rock formations and crystal-clear water.
Another must-see attraction in Matka Canyon is Matka Lake, which is a beautiful glacial lake that is surrounded by stunning cliffs and lush vegetation.
Visitors can take a boat tour of the lake or go kayaking or canoeing to explore its hidden corners.
For those interested in local culture and history, Saint Andrew Monastery is a must-visit destination in Matka Canyon.
The monastery, which was founded in the 14th century, is a stunning example of Byzantine architecture and is home to a number of important religious artifacts.
In addition to these attractions, Matka Canyon also offers a variety of outdoor activities, including hiking, rock climbing, and bird watching. Visitors can also enjoy local restaurants and cafes that offer traditional Macedonian cuisine.
Matka Canyon is open year-round, but the best time to visit is between April and October when the weather is warm and sunny.
Getting to Matka from Skopje
The canyon is located approximately 15 kilometers from Skopje and can be reached by car or public transportation. The journey takes approximately 30 minutes by car and 45 minutes by bus, depending on traffic.
Mavrovo National Park
Mavrovo National Park is one of the most beautiful natural destinations in North Macedonia, located in the western part of the country, near the border with Albania and Kosovo.
The park covers an area of more than 73,000 hectares, and it is known for its stunning landscapes, rich biodiversity, and cultural heritage.
The park has a long and fascinating history, dating back to ancient times.
It has been inhabited by various cultures and civilizations over the centuries, leaving behind numerous historical and archaeological sites.
Today, the park is home to more than 1,000 plant species, 160 bird species, and numerous mammal and fish species, making it an important ecological hotspot in the region.
A must-visit attraction in the park is Saint Jovan Bigorski Monastery, a stunning Orthodox monastery that dates back to the 11th century.
The monastery is renowned for its beautiful frescoes and unique architecture, and it is considered one of the most important cultural and religious sites in North Macedonia.
Mavrovo National Park is also a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts, offering visitors a variety of hiking trails, mountain biking routes, and water sports opportunities.
In the winter months, the park is a popular skiing destination, with several ski resorts offering a variety of slopes and facilities.
The best time to visit Mavrovo National Park depends on the activities visitors are interested in.
The park is beautiful year-round, but the best time to visit for hiking and water sports is between May and September, while the best time to visit for skiing is between December and March.
Getting to Mavrovo from Skopje
Mavrovo National Park is located approximately 100 kilometers from Skopje, and it can be reached by car or public transportation. The journey takes approximately 2-3 hours by car, depending on traffic.
The Kokino Observatory is an ancient astronomical observatory located on a hilltop in the northeastern region of North Macedonia.
It is considered one of the oldest and most important observatories in the world, dating back to the Bronze Age. The site was discovered in 2001 and added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2021.
The Kokino Observatory offers visitors a glimpse into the ancient civilization that once inhabited the area. The observatory was used to track the movements of the sun, moon, and stars and to predict seasonal changes and celestial events.
The site includes stone markers, altars, and seats, as well as a platform that was used for observing and recording astronomical data.
In addition to the ancient observatory, visitors can also enjoy the breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
The observatory is located at an elevation of 1,030 meters, making it one of the highest points in the area.
While there are no specific activities offered at the observatory, visitors can learn about the history and significance of the site through guided tours or by reading the informational plaques placed throughout the area.
The site is open year-round, but it is recommended to visit during the spring or fall to avoid extreme temperatures.
Getting to Kokino from Skopje
To get to the Kokino Observatory from Skopje, visitors can take a bus or hire a taxi. The journey takes approximately two hours, and it is recommended to make arrangements in advance to ensure a smooth trip.
Mount Vodno & The Millenium Cross
Mount Vodno is a mountain located near the city of Skopje, North Macedonia.
It is the highest peak in the Skopje valley, standing at an elevation of 1,066 meters. The mountain is home to the Millennium Cross, which is one of the most iconic landmarks in the city.
The Millennium Cross was built in 2002 to celebrate 2,000 years of Christianity in North Macedonia. The cross stands at 66 meters tall and is made of steel and concrete.
It can be seen from almost anywhere in the city and offers spectacular views of the surrounding area.
In addition to the Millennium Cross, Mount Vodno offers visitors a variety of outdoor activities, including hiking, mountain biking, and skiing in the winter months.
There are several hiking trails on the mountain, ranging from easy to difficult, that provide stunning views of the city and the surrounding landscape.
The best time of year to visit Mount Vodno and the Millennium Cross depends on the activities you are interested in.
For skiing, the winter months from December to March are ideal. For hiking and other outdoor activities, the spring and fall months are the most comfortable, while summer can be hot and humid.
Getting to Mount Vodno from Skopje
To get to Mount Vodno and the Millennium Cross from Skopje, visitors can take a bus or taxi. The journey takes approximately 30 minutes by car and up to an hour by public transportation.
It is recommended to plan ahead and check the opening hours of the Millennium Cross, as they can vary depending on the season.
In conclusion, Skopje is a fantastic base from which to explore some of the most stunning natural landscapes, historical landmarks, and cultural treasures in North Macedonia.
From the picturesque Lake Ohrid to the breathtaking Matka Canyon, and from the ancient Kokino Observatory to the imposing Millenium Cross on Mount Vodno, there is no shortage of fantastic day trips and excursions that can be taken from Skopje.
Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast, a history buff, a foodie, or simply seeking a change of scenery, these destinations offer something for everyone.
So, if you’re planning a trip to Skopje, set aside some time to explore the surrounding region and discover all that North Macedonia has to offer.